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I missed posting last week. I was brought low by a stomach bug of some sort, but I’m feeling much better now. This, of course, pushes back my end date by a week. It’s a bummer but it can’t be helped.
This is the next-to-the-last post for this book. The next book I’ll refresh and share will be Lilacs & Lavender.
Want to go back and read the previous chapters?
Chapter 13 is here.
Bingley awoke the next day determined to speak to his twin as soon as possible. He asked his valet to inquire of Caroline’s maid if she was awake and ready for visitors.
“Oh, and Bailey, if my sister is not going to be available to speak to me right away, ask her maid to tell her that I require an audience with her this morning, before she breaks her fast.”
The manservant nodded and moved away to do his master’s bidding. Within a few minutes, he returned with news that Miss Bingley would see her brother in her sitting room in a half-hour.
Bingley spent that time rehearsing what he would say. Caroline’s actions were serious. Very serious. He did not know what was going on in her head to make her think such behavior as she had exhibited towards Mrs. Darcy most of this visit was acceptable. She did not normally behave in such a fashion, at least not when he was near. Certainly, when they were children she had been sweet-natured, much as he himself still was. However, when she had come back from school, he had noticed that something was a little different in her manner. Since it had never previously affected him directly, he had not thought much on it. Now he wished he had. He was not about to risk his relationship with his oldest and best friend to protect his most difficult sibling. Twins they might be, but the two were as different as night was from day at this point. He loved her dearly, but it was beyond time that she took responsibility for her actions.
When the appointed hour came, Bingley presented himself at his sister’s sitting room door, knocking firmly. He gathered his fortitude around him like a great blanket as he waited for permission to enter. He was going to need as much of it as he could muster to get himself through this interview. Upon hearing Caroline’s voice bidding him to enter, he took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Good morning Caroline,” he began.
“Good morning, Charles. I was surprised at your summons so early in the day. Could this not have waited until after I had eaten?” Miss Bingley knew why her brother was standing before her. She hoped, however, to put him off. It was not that she thought she could manipulate him; he had always had the ability to stand up to her, or anyone who he felt was wrong. It was just that she knew how ladies in society were expected to behave, and Charles did not. He had not been to her school and learned what she had about moving amongst the higher classes. If the Bingley family were to join the highest circles, she must learn to behave appropriately. Nothing she had done this visit had been any different than what had happened in any other location where women gathered.
“No, Caroline, it could not. Would that I did not have to address it with you at all, but I must. I will not allow you to come between me and the man I count closer than a brother. Your behavior to Mrs. Darcy was beyond the pale. What has come over you to conduct yourself in such a way? You have never been vindictive before. And what about fawning all over Darcy? What were you thinking? Caroline, he is married. That is forever. He is out of your reach, not that he ever would have considered you in the first place. Not the way you have acted since you left school. What happened to change you?” By now, Bingley had grown angry. His face red, his arms waving, his pointing finger punctuated each point he made. Every time he looked at his twin, his fury grew, for she sat there as though she had not a care in the world. She looked bored, and if he had not been taught to never strike a lady, he would knock her off that settee and make her sit up and take notice. Instead he paused, turning away to look out the window and get his pique under regulation. No wonder Darcy does this so often, he thought.
“I did nothing wrong, Charles. Women of the ton speak in that manner to each other. It is the way things are done. I fail to understand why you are so upset.”
Charles whipped around from the window to stare at her incredulously. “The way things are done? I have attended dozens of dinners, balls, and card parties, Caroline. I have observed Darcy’s family … all of them, male and female alike … and have not seen them behave in such a manner, ever. I have been to St James’ and Almack’s and have never observed such goings on in either place. In public, Caroline, ladies do not behave in that way. What is appropriate in one’s own home is completely different than what is allowed outside of it. I am not saying the gossiping you do in private is good, either, but it is definitely not acceptable elsewhere. Visiting a friend’s home is the same as visiting in public when the gathering is this large and mixed with both family and those who are not. If you wish to defame anyone, not just Mrs. Darcy, do not do it in public! You are setting both of us up for failure, Sister, and I will not have it. Darcy is my oldest and dearest friend, and I will not lose that for anyone, not even you.” Here Charles paused a moment to collect his thoughts.
“There are consequences and ramifications for every action a person takes. There are penalties which I must now enforce upon you so our family may maintain its respectability and retain the friendship of the Darcys. Again I say, Fitzwilliam is the brother I never had, and I will not give that friendship up. You have been acting strangely at times, ever since you returned from school. I have ignored it up until now, but no longer. Lord Walton had asked permission to speak to you about a courtship. However, he no more than made his request than Darcy’s uncle informed me of your behavior, and Darcy himself told me in no uncertain terms that if it does not change, he will cut off our friendship. Walton was present during this discussion, and we decided that instead of courting you, he will marry you.” Bingley raised his hand to quiet his sister, who had begun to speak out in protest. “Nothing you say matters at this point, Caroline. There is no other option for you. I will not have you in my household, and you know Hurst will not, either. It is beyond time that you married. You have been ‘out’ for four seasons. I know that you were holding out for Darcy, but that ship has sailed. You will be Lady Walton in a few weeks and that is that. He will speak to you later today, and you will accept him.”
Caroline wilted a bit under her brother’s glare. He was rarely as angry as he was at this moment. It was rather frightening to see, and she could not immediately think of anything to say to appease him. She did not, however, want to be told who she was going to marry. Why should she be forced to wed because she told some home truths about a meaningless country nothing? So she married Fitzwilliam Darcy … she was still a nobody. Tasteless, uncouth, and without manners. Still, another peek at Charles’ face was enough to keep her from voicing those thoughts. I had best try to calm him, she thought.
“Very well, Brother. I will marry this Lord Walton.” Good, he seems to be relaxing a bit. “I do not like being forced to wed, but to make you happy, I will,” she sniffed, raising her chin. Though that does not mean I will make it easy on Lord Walton.
“Watch yourself, Sister; you do not want to trip because you cannot see past that nose you just stuck in the air. I do not want to hear a word out of you today beyond pleasantries. You will stay away from Mrs. Darcy. Do you understand me?”
“Charles, do not be ridiculous. How can I give Lord Walton an answer if I am not allowed to speak?”
“Caroline!” Bingley spoke sharply. “Do not give me cause to add further punishments to you. You are in a dangerous situation for one of our standing. And do not think you are going to be difficult with Lord Walton about accepting him. I have already given him leave to affect a compromise, if needed. It does not matter to me how he goes about it. He can carry you off to Gretna Green for all I care. You will marry him, sooner rather than later.” With that, Bingley marched out of his twin’s sitting room, firmly shutting the door behind him.
His sister sat looking after him, mouth hanging open, shock clearly written on her face. He obviously was serious. She needed to be very careful for the next few days if she wanted to avoid any more of his censure. She knew, though, that she could be subtle. She need not change a thing, only appear to have.
Caroline truly saw nothing wrong with her behavior. Charles was correct – she had been out in society for four years. Before that, she had been at school for five years, rubbing shoulders with the daughters of families of the wealthy. A few were peers, but more were from families that ranged from new money like Caroline herself to ancient families with old money and high standing in society. Caroline had felt out of place when she first arrived. Her mother had instructed her to befriend those of elevated status and not waste her time with those of her social class. Her parent had made it clear to her and her sister that they were to raise the family’s consequence through marriage and that she should make the most of every connection she could while at school.
So, when she had arrived at school and realized that maintaining the sweet personality she had grown up with was not going to help her but rather hinder her, she began to imitate those with whom she wanted to associate. It did not take her long to learn how to manipulate people, gossip about them, and put on airs. She achieved her goal – she was accepted into the highest circles of girls. Unfortunately, Caroline never learned the difference between behavior at school and behavior in public, in society. What one does to survive in a school setting does not translate into what is acceptable in the world outside. Caroline was stuck in behaviors learned years ago and could not see where she was wrong. Now she was paying a price.
When she finally came down for breakfast, Miss Bingley was subdued. Under the eagle eye of her brother, she politely greeted everyone in the room before settling down in the only available seat. As she began eating, she realized that to her right sat Lord Walton. She remained quiet; it was up to him to make the first move.
While she ate, she thought about the coming proposal. Though she hated having her choice taken away from her, in reality that had already happened when Fitzwilliam Darcy married. Why he chose to marry someone so beneath him was a mystery to her, but it was done and could not be undone. She turned her thoughts to Lord Walton. He was not a bad-looking man. If one were to be forced to marry against one’s inclinations, one could do much worse. And, he was a peer. That would make her a peeress upon her marriage, which would give her a higher precedence than Mrs. Darcy. Happy thought! She could, and would, make sure to emphasize that as often as she could. After all, even a peer could be manipulated, and as a peeress she would be above censure. Miss Bingley smiled to herself as she finished her breakfast. Before she could rise from her seat, Lord Walton asked for a private audience with her. Smiling smugly, she agreed, and preceded him from the room.
The morning of the ball dawned bright and clear. There had been a brief snowstorm and lots of clouds the previous day. This morning, however, there was neither a cloud in the sky nor a flake in the air. The reflection of the sun off the beautiful covered-in-white landscape lifted the spirits of Pemberley’s mistress after the tension of the last day or two. It helped to know that the dance would go on as planned, with no unexpected delays, as the snowfall had been minimal and not deep enough to delay travel.
Elizabeth walked with Mrs. Reynolds through the ballroom and dining room, checking the decorations and arrangements. The footmen and maids had gone out before the storm and gathered enough greenery to fill the stillroom. Yesterday, they had spent all day turning it into garlands and other decorations, and hanging them all over the house. The ballroom was exquisite. Elizabeth was sure she had never seen such a well-decorated room in all her life. She knew the attendees at the ball would all remark on it.
The rest of the house was just as beautiful. There were garlands of holly and ivy draped over the banisters of the grand staircase and the doorways. The Yule log was in place in the sitting room fireplace. The kissing bough was delightful, and hung over the mantle of the same sitting room. Bunches of mistletoe hung over tables and other furniture in all the rooms. Both items, mistletoe and kissing bough, had already invited many pecks on the cheek amongst the staff, along with blushes and laughter. Even Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds had made use of both, to the delight of all who chanced to witness it.
Elizabeth felt a deep peace at such a beautiful setting for the first ball she had ever hosted. She knew deep inside that this was going to be a beautiful day, the beginning of a beautiful season. She had no fear of being insulted or despised. She was certain that her family had made sure all the guests knew she was to be respected. She loved Christmas and all it represented, and to be in such a wonderful position at this very special time of year gave a boost to her confidence and her emotions.
Her inspection complete, Elizabeth took her daily stroll around the upstairs hallways before breaking her fast with her guests and family. Fitzwilliam kissed her hand as she entered, escorting her to her seat next to him before moving to the sideboard to fix her a plate.
“Good morning, everyone,” she greeted as she sat down. Already at the table were Papa George, Mr. Bingley, and the Miller and Burns families.
“Good morning, Daughter,” replied Mr. Darcy with a smile. “I trust you slept well? I heard you about with Mrs. Reynolds this morning. Is everything in order for tonight’s entertainment?”
“Yes, sir; everything is perfect. All we need now are guests and musicians.” Elizabeth smiled brightly at her father-in-law as she spoke, and then again at her husband when he set her plate before her and sat down next to her, reaching for her hand to squeeze.
“I expected no less, my dear. You have quite a talent for organization, and partnered with our housekeeper, you make a powerful team. This ball will be spoken of for years in the county, I am sure.” Mr. Darcy beamed at his beautiful daughter-in-law, thinking once again that he was so very blessed to have her as part of his family.
After receiving the greetings and compliments of the rest of the occupants of the breakfast room, Elizabeth quietly ate her meal. She was very much distracted by her Fitzwilliam’s presence and found herself staring at him frequently. She wished she could hold his hand while she ate, but that was impractical. She contented herself with watching him converse, sometimes with others but often with her. She loved his smile and the soft look in his eyes when he gazed at her. She hoped that they would have some quiet time together before she had to begin to bathe and dress for the ball.
After eating, the Darcys scattered to take care of some house- and estate-related issues while the rest of the party amused themselves for a couple of hours with cards or billiards or needlework. Soon they began drifting up the stairs to their rooms to begin getting ready for the night’s entertainment.
Fitzwilliam had, upon escorting his wife from the breakfast parlor, whispered in her ear a suggested assignation for an hour hence. Elizabeth had agreed with a quiet giggle and now the two were upstairs in their suite seated together in the chair. He loved holding her this way, in his lap with her arms about his neck. It was his favorite way of spending time with the dearest person in his life. They chatted for a bit, punctuating their discussion with kisses that before long were increasing in length and intensity. His beloved wife was certainly amorous today, and Fitzwilliam was not about to stand in the way of her satisfaction. Soon the couple moved to the bed, forgetting about balls and baths and guests.
The pair was awakened by Elizabeth’s maid, who had come to inform her mistress that her bath water was ready. Kissing each other softly, they parted ways, each to their own dressing room. They regretted that their private time was over for the time being, but they did have guests and a ball to host.
Later, as she sat at her dressing table while her maid finished putting up her hair, Elizabeth heard her spouse’s soft knock on the door and bid him enter. As he moved into the room with a smile on his face, that special one that she knew was just for her, her heart beat faster. He was dressed in his black suit, with trousers instead of breeches, and a waistcoat that matched her dress. As a matter of fact, it looked to be of the same material and pattern. She still, after months of marriage, was not sure how that happened, as she was well-acquainted with the amount of material required to make a dress as well as the amount she had ordered. Someone somewhere must add extra fabric to each order she made. Regardless, he was looking rather dashing, and she greatly approved.
So busy was Elizabeth in admiring Fitzwilliam’s figure, she did not see that he held something in his hand. Over the course of their marriage, he had several times given her a gift from the Darcy jewels. He approached her, reaching for her hand but urging her to stay seated at the dressing table. Leaning down, he kissed first her lips, then her ear, and finally her neck. As he was distracting her with those caresses, he brought a necklace around with his other hand and fastened it. It was a beautiful set of emeralds in a gold setting. Opening her eyes as she felt the ornament settle around her neck, she was struck by the beauty of them.
“Oh, Fitzwilliam! They are exquisite! Were they your mother’s?” Elizabeth never knew if the gift he gave her on any particular day had been worn by his mother previously, or one of his other ancestors. He had even, on occasion, bought her jewels of her own. No matter the source, she appreciated each and every gift. The honor of wearing his mother’s jewels was not lost on her, though. Those particular gifts reinforced in her mind that she was Mrs. Darcy, and she was highly esteemed. She would have loved him had he nothing to his name, of course, but those particular indications of his regard were valued the most.
“Yes, my darling, they were. I remember her wearing these to a Christmas ball the year before she passed. I wanted to present them to you today as a token of how proud I am of you and how you present yourself to everyone around you. You represent the Darcy family well, and I love you with all my heart.”
Elizabeth rose from the bench to give him a hug and a kiss of thanks. She melted into him as he held her tightly to his chest. After a too-short hug, Fitzwilliam pulled back a bit, reaching into his pocket. “There are earrings and a bracelet to go with it, my love. Here, let me help you put them on, then we can go and begin to greet our guests.”
With those words, he clasped the bracelet over her arm and attached the earrings to her lobes, then softly kissed her and led her from the room and down to the foyer to greet their guests.
In the entry hall, at the bottom of the grand staircase, Mr. Darcy stood watching his son and daughter descend. They made a fine-looking couple, and he was exceedingly proud of both of them. He was looking forward to the day he could dandle a grandchild on his knee, and he had a feeling that it would not be long before that happened. He had watched for months as the two fell deeper in love and had noticed that some days, today for instance, they could hardly keep their hands off each other. Yes, one day soon he would be a grandfather. He could hardly wait!
The Shetlers were the first of the guests to arrive. Not part of the house party, they had nevertheless been to Pemberley for dinner a couple times in the last few days and had spent yesterday visiting Elizabeth and partaking in the amusements. First Mrs. Shetler and then Miss Shetler had squeezed Elizabeth’s hands upon greeting her. She knew they would stand beside her come what may tonight, though truly, she had the feeling that everything would go smoothly. She knew without a doubt there would be no trouble from anyone tonight in regards to herself and her marriage. This was going to be a glorious night.
Once the last of the guests had been greeted and the Darcys entered the ballroom, Elizabeth’s excitement was palpable. It had been months since she last danced with her husband, and they were participating in the first set. As they stood across from each other in the line, they gazed one at the other with looks of pure adoration on their faces. Those who were not dancing and prone to examination of those around them took note. Of course, the couple had been seen at events before now both in Derbyshire and in London, but they looked even more besotted with each other now than they had been just a week ago at the Millers’ dinner.
Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam were blissfully unaware of the talk floating around them. When the music began and they took their first steps, it was as if the rest of the room ceased to be, and they were the only two people that existed. Their movements as they flowed through the steps were perfectly matched. Both exuded elegance and grace. They were two halves of a whole, mirrors of each other in movement, ability, and beauty.
Watching the couple from up the line were Miss Bingley and Lord Walton, whose engagement had been announced at dinner last night. This was their first appearance as a betrothed couple. Lord Walton saw the look on Miss Bingley’s face as she watched the Darcys dance and felt it incumbent upon himself to warn her once again of the consequences should she cause trouble. As soon as the steps of the dance brought them close to each other, he leaned down and quietly said, “Remember what I told you, Caroline. There will be no trouble from you towards Mrs. Darcy, or we will be on the road to Gretna Green before the ball is over, and you will not get the big society wedding you want.”
Miss Bingley startled from her contemplation of the couple down the line and turned her eyes to her betrothed. When she had agreed to marry him yesterday morning, he had warned her in no uncertain terms that her dream wedding and the amount of her future pin money depended upon her good behavior. She could choose to treat Mrs. Darcy poorly again, but she would find herself marrying in Gretna Green without her family and all of society witnessing her triumph. Or, she could behave with decorum and have the large wedding she desired. Walton had taken the time to outline for her the behavior he expected, in detail. She had tried to tell him that he could not possibly know how ladies behaved when gentlemen were not in the room, but he quickly reminded her of her roots and that she could not be expected to know that what happens at school stays at school. She was offended, of course, but not enough to try to break off the engagement. So, she agreed to amend her behavior for the duration of the house party and into the future. For, as she was informed, she would have a set amount of pin money that good behavior would add to. Bad behavior, however, would cause said amount of pin money to diminish.
Caroline had at first tried to manipulate Lord Walton into letting her have her way, but quickly came to understand that he was not having it. He made it plain that this was a marriage of convenience, and that where it went from here depended entirely upon her. He felt that they could have a good relationship, if she behaved appropriately. She was, however, from trade, and so needed to be taught how to move about in his circles. Miss Bingley was offended once more, but again not enough to attempt getting out of their arrangement. In the back of her mind, his forcefulness actually intrigued her. No one had been that commanding with her, ever, except her brother when he confronted her that morning. She was curious about this feeling Lord Walton engendered in her and looked forward to learning more.
Therefore, when she heard his warning, she simply nodded her head in acknowledgement and continued dancing. She turned her head away from the direction of the young Darcy couple and focused instead on the man she was marrying.
After their set of dances ended, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth began circulating around the ballroom, chatting with friends, making sure everyone was comfortable, and making introductions where necessary. At some point, Fitzwilliam had to leave her side to attend to his father and Elizabeth found herself surrounded by friends. To her left were the Shetler ladies, and to her right was Lady Susan. The women had decided amongst themselves to guard the mistress of Pemberley and let it be known that she was not without friends. It was an unusual alliance, to be sure, since Lady Susan was of higher status and the Shetler ladies were not ones with whom she would usually align herself, but she had seen from their greetings that they were friends of Mrs. Darcy and therefore, she would be friends to them. She planned to make sure that there would be no further incidents like the ones with her daughter and Miss Bingley.
At the end of the night, the Darcys were congratulated on their fine event by all the attendees. They retired to their rooms, satisfied that their guests had enjoyed themselves and happy that there had been nothing untoward said or done in regards to Elizabeth and her marriage to her Fitzwilliam.
The next day was Christmas Day. As it was also the day after the ball, everyone at Pemberley was slow to rise. Breakfast had been planned for after church for that reason; however, the cook had decided to send small baskets of muffins along in the carriages in case anyone felt they needed something to tide them over.
Church was a special time for the Darcys and many of their guests. The Darcys in particular valued this time spent in God’s house, praising Him and learning about Him. They had their own personal times spent in prayer and study at home every day, and Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam had time as a couple that they spent similarly, but going to church and participating in corporate prayer and fellowship was important to them. On this day, the day they celebrated the birth of the Savior, they were even more reverent than usual. All were thankful for the acceptance last night of Mrs. Darcy by the guests in attendance and prayed with extra gratitude. That gratitude magnified the entire service for many in attendance. The music seemed sweeter, the sermon seemed more personal, and the prayer seemed more meaningful.
After the moving service, the Darcys and their guests returned to the manor house for a warm breakfast and more camaraderie. The visitors would all be leaving tomorrow morning, going back to their own homes to celebrate Twelfth Night, so they spent the day enjoying each other’s company and relaxing.
Just before luncheon, Mr. Darcy asked Georgiana, Fitzwilliam, and Elizabeth to meet him in his private sitting room. The Darcy family, in opposition to most of the country at this time, had always practiced gift-giving, in a small way. Each member of the family gifted the others with a small token, sometimes a much-desired volume, sometimes a small box of a favored candy, or perhaps a pair of gloves. This day, with guests in the house, Mr. Darcy decided to go ahead with the exchange of gifts, but in the privacy of his chamber. To each of his children, Elizabeth included, he gave a book. Georgiana received a book of fairy tales, while his daughter-in-law and son each received a book of poetry. Expressing their delight, his daughters each gave him a hug. His son shook his hand, gripping it tightly.
Georgiana gave each of her siblings and her father a handkerchief embroidered with their initials. She was learning needlework, and was eager to show off that accomplishment. She was exclaimed over by all the adults and given tight hugs and many compliments.
The married Darcy couple gave gifts to Georgiana and Papa George, but saved their gifts to each other for later in the evening after they retired for the night. Mr. Darcy received a new pair of riding gloves, and Georgiana a set of watercolors. Each gift was gratefully received.
Later that night, before they went to bed, Elizabeth and her beloved Fitzwilliam exchanged their gifts. They had each gotten the other a new journal. They laughed at this, as it showed how in-tune to each other they were. As they snuggled in tight to each other to sleep, both said a silent prayer of thankfulness for the love and the wonderful life they shared.
The next morning, they arose early to see their guests off. As the last carriage pulled away, they happily turned to the activities that pleased them most. Mr. Darcy retired to his study to take care of Pemberley business, Georgiana to the music room to practice, and Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth to the library to cuddle by the fire and read.
To be continued …